Readers respond to recent articles on vulvodynia and the movie "Thirteen."

By Salon Staff

Published September 8, 2003 8:40PM (EDT)

[Read "Trouble down there," by Lynn Harris.]

I was afflicted with a form of vulvodynia (which my doctors eventually termed vestibulitis) from the age of 13 to 25. I was misdiagnosed with everything including sexually transmitted diseases (before I became anywhere close to sexually active). Finally, at the end of my rope, scarred physically and psychologically from a condition that no one could diagnose or respect (I was often told effectively to lie back and be quiet from the less-than sympathetic doctors I visited), I found a doctor who believed me, and worked with me. At the age of 25, I received the surgery talked about in your article, and while I don't normally believe in "magic" solutions, that's exactly what the surgery was for me. Within months, I was healed, and really appreciating what a healthy body feels like. Please don't let the negative views of the surgery dissuade good candidates from having it. It may not be for everyone, but five years later, I am still thanking God for my surgeon.

-- Debra

In the article "Trouble Down There", Lynn Harris calls endometriosis a "benign yet painful" condition.

In no way is endometriosis benign. In addition to being painful, it is a leading cause of infertility -- between 30 to 50 percent of women with endo are also infertile. Endo can also cause adhesions, scar tissue formation, recurrent yeast infections, and bowel problems.

Please be accurate.

-- Kelly Molloy

Thank you Salon!

Your article on vulvodynia was excellent and exciting to read.

Ok, let me rephrase. It was exciting to me that an article on this little known disorder is even published.

Reading about it made me realize I am one of those many women who feel as if a lit match was stuck up her, ahem, area.

As a 30-year-old woman who lost her virginity at 18, I can count on my one hand the times I have had sex that did not involve burning pain. Good sex, to me, was pain-free sex. I went from doctor to doctor who all said that maybe I need to have a glass of wine before sex, or that I just need to calm down. One doctor even pushed me to have a surgery that would cut the opening of my vagina a full 3 inches so "your man can finally get it all inside you."

Finally, one rainy day in Philadelphia, a nurse practitioner said, "Oh, no doubt about it, you have vulvodynia, and there is a great specialist for you to see." Bada bing, just like that. I wasn't crazy, frigid, asexual--there was a reason for the pain.

That was three years ago and it has been a long road. The treatment is unconventional -- a cream that is mixture of the "hot" in hot peppers. You apply it to the outside of your woofie, it burns for 20 minutes and then voila -- the pain gradually goes away. Well, it did for me. Luckily, I had a great boyfriend who became my great husband who is supportive and understanding. Some women are not so lucky (Susannah Kaysen in her book) and their boyfriends can't understand why that just can't "do it."

I was also pleased to see you had a link to an article written in 1999 about interstitial cystitis, which I was recently diagnosed with. Some say it can go hand in hand with vulvodynia.

The fun never ends ...


This symptom is similar to interstitial cystitis and shingles -- a viral neurodystrophy caused by herpes zoster or maybe a subclinical form of herpes progenitalis (simplex)-i.e. it gets in the nerves without manifesting on the surface. Treatment: acyclovir(Zovirax) or any of the more recent improvements since I retired. In my experience the relief of discomfort is almost immediate and lasts for several yrs. Incidently, acyclovir also relieves recurrent fever blisters on the lips for several yrs.

--Robert R. Martinez MD, retired urologist

[Read "'Melodramatic Representations of Teens Always Bother Me," by Whitney Joiner.]

As a woman who grew up in Manhattan, I have been at great pains to defend the idea that children who grow up in New York don't have the same variety of problems as their counterparts throughout the country. There is something intangible about the experience of growing up a New Yorker that makes most of the problems afflicting teenagers nationwide seem somewhat over-the-top and petty to those who grew up here -- or at least completely inapplicable.

These three students made what I consider to be the most important point to be made about school life in New York: the fact that the "popular" and "insular" clique pretty much doesn't exist. Students in New York are generally multi-faceted -- we don't have jocks, nerds, artsy-fartsies, and druggies like they show on TV. We have football players taking AP chemistry, chess teams smoking up after practice, and dancers who take time out to play a little soccer. New York students defy classification, and that's why they're not shooting up their schools. When everyone is a little bit attached to every group, it's hard to feel completely out of the loop.

I hesitate to say that these students are smarter because they're from New York, but they're certainly more realistic and understand that experimentation throughout one's teenage years is normal while at the same time understanding the limits of normal and knowing when a classmate has crossed the line into unhealthy behavior.

In fact, popular media portrayals have never resonated with New York kids. In my youth it was "The Breakfast Club" and "Heathers," and my friends and I wondered who these weirdo kids were because it didn't even approach a representation of our school lives. Could it be that instead of paint huffing and mailbox destruction, New York kids have vast cultural opportunities unheard of throughout the rest of the country? Could it be that the simple act of getting from place to place on one's own, navigating mass transport and city streets, enables our kids to be more self-sufficient and savvy? Whatever it is, there's no mistaking that a movie like "Thirteen" with its doomsday message of adolescence would never make sense to a teenager in New York who has outlets for his or her pent-up creativity, anonymous and supportive resources to combat drug problems, unwanted pregnancy, and suicidal feelings, and perhaps, the knowledge that it's just not cool to fall apart if you live here.

-- Yelena Malcolm

I have to say, I like Salon. I think it's interesting, entertaining and at times, insightful. As a 22-year-old who has spent her life flirting with the idea of feminism (and yes, I mean all the derogatory things that go along with that metaphor), whose mother had a rap group in the 1960s and got a Ph.D. when it was cooler to get knocked up, I am interested in what's happening to women these days and therefore, "Thirteen."

But you so incredibly missed the mark with this article, it actually infuriates me. You're asking three over-educated girls, girls who go to great schools in an urban setting, if they relate to this movie. Of course they won't. They're smarter than this movie. Interview some 13-year-olds who will tell us something we don' t know, something different from, if you have the means to take care of your kid and give her a great education, she won't fuck boys and cut herself.

As hyperbolic as the movie was, this article was the same unhelpful extremism on the other end of the spectrum, unconstructive and inflammatory in a certain way, holding up its hands and declaring in a loud voice, "Whoa, it's OK, 13-year-olds are smart and normal." Not to mention the fact that none of the interviewed girls is actually 13, probably making most of them high school students, a different ball-game entirely.

-- Julia Green

Salon Staff

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